Just how fast do they go?

Residents frequently complain about speeding traffic. 

Signs are only marginally effective, if the engineers design the roads to invite higher speeds. And make no doubt road design is not some innocent bystander in this. For years we have been making our roads wider, flatter, smoother, better lit, and pretending innocence when traffic goes faster.

It is faster by design.

The first step in fixing the problem is to measure the problem. You can’t fix what you didn’t measure.

Some Councillors are buying Speed Boards for their Wards. These boards tell motorists what speed they are doing. There is  evidence that motorists slow down when their excess speed is pointed out, which reinforces the notion that motorists are unaware of speeding because the road design invites that speed. And lucky for us, motorists tend to keep to the correct speed for some time after the speed board sign moves on to somewhere else.

But eventually it creeps back up, invited by the City’s road design.

A speed board does more than just tell the motorist her speed. It also builds a data base. A very useful data base.

Here are the actual results of the speed board pictured above on Booth Street, northbound, in front of St Anthony Church. If there is anywhere one might expect motorists to be a little bit cautious of speed, it’s right in front of a church and school. And I can’t help but wonder if the proximity to a signalized intersection slows traffic since 50% of the time motorists see a red light ahead. The pavement is pretty rough too. So let’s look at the data.

Oh, by the way, the City’s review of the data is merely: Based on this information it seems that the speeds are consistent throughout all times of day with an average speed of 42km/h. Doesn’t the image of Shirley Temple come to mind?

Some people might be content with average knowledge. What might a more observant citizen discover?

Here is the daytime chart. Taken between 10 am and 12 noon. Speed limit 40 kmh. Note that 56% of vehicles are going above the speed limit. And look down in the bottom right corner: the fastest vehicles were going at 99 kmh — right at an intersection and in front of a school !  Imagine what that car would do to a lunch bucket, let alone its carrier!

And, notice that 97 vehicles were going over 60 kmh in just the midday two hour period (counted over 3 days)! This is 50% faster than the speed limit. That’s one very fast speeder every three or four minutes at midday. But on average, you know…

I am told that some of the excess speed is due to the “velocity factor” of motorists used to Queensway speeds who arrive on a residential street and then tend to resume their prior speed “because it seems natural”. Nothing to worry about here folks, move on.

 So what happens at night on Booth Street? We are ignoring any cars that might stop on the street, perhaps to ask directions from people on the sidewalk, although their cruising speed will be captured in the data. Here is the Wednesday night data, for Wednesday May 2nd:

Only 62% of the vehicles are breaking the speed limit. But at least 16% actually would be somewhat compliant with a 30kmh limit. Our night time speed demon, trying to get to Hull before the bars close, was doing 84 kmh, twice the posted speed limit.

What was it the city said was consistent about the traffic?

I’d say it was pretty consistently dangerous. Like every day. Every night.

And here is the overnight data for Thursday evening:

I think it is important that when speed boards become more available in our residential neighborhoods that we get as much data as possible so as to permit an analysis that just might vary slightly from the City’s analysis.

Remember, that readers in the Civic Hospital area should contact their association to get involved in the campaign for 40 kmh limits in that neighborhood. And Dalhousie residents (Little Italy and Chinatown) that want to get involved should contact the Dalhousie Community Association’s transportation committee and watch for the pedestrian safety meeting coming in a few weeks.

15 thoughts on “Just how fast do they go?

  1. Considering the condition of Booth here, I am really surprised by these numbers. Hope the board travels around the corner to Gladstone at some point.

  2. Also, who advised on the location metres from the traffic lights? Presumably, the numbers from the vehicles slowing for the red lights keeps the average in the acceptable range. No?

  3. I would imagine that they sited it to be beside a 40 km/hr sign.

    I want to see one on the top of the Bank Street Bridge! Anyone who rides over that knows how frightening it is.

  4. If more than 50% of the drivers on this part of Booth are speeding already, what is lowering the (already ignored) speed limit further going to achieve? I think its time to bring back the radar cameras that sends tickets to speeders, and put them near schools.

    1. I think the point of the post is that we have road designs that encourage high speeds, not deter them. I live on Bayswater near Carling, and it’s no surprise we have speeding problems: the road is wider than Bank, Wellington or Preston Streets, and between Beech and Sherwood (a good 500m, I would guess), there’s no stop sign. Is it a wonder people speed?

      Instead, we should be looking at roadway designs that encourage slower speeds, better facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians? I’ve always been amazed at how wide many residential streets are in Ottawa, and how stingy the pedestrian realm is.

      1. If you don’t have buy in from the motorists, this will never happen. Something has to be offered to drivers to make them support the lower speeds.

  5. I live on Gladstone across from BA International Inc. The speed board was there—only for one day though. You don’t need to have that board though to see that cars speed (sometimes ridiculously) on that stretch of Gladstone. Gladstone is going up a hill from Preston, and as the hill crests, any automobile will naturally accelerate (into the light at Bayswater) unless the driver actively eases up on the gas. How many drivers do that? I am sure the cops could park in my driveway with radar gun and raise $10,000s per say in speeding tickets. If they wanted to, I would let ’em.

  6. The more I look at these charts, the more I am shocked by the decision to use average speed (especially given the presence of a potential red light). What is of note is that 15% are going significantly faster than legally allowed (25%+ above the speed limit). And really, that is a lowball number since many people are slowing for the red light and thus have no option to speed.

    The average number is such BS. If the Average speed is 43, then it coule be 2 cars – one going 10 and one going 76 – which one would you rather hit you?

  7. Great data, Eric. Thanks.
    The 417 “velocity effect” should not persist past the point of stopping and making the right hand turn onto Booth.
    This also explains why riding a bike is so dangerous. And it highlights an enforcement issue. Why have speed limits if they are ignored by drivers and left unenforced? The fully burdened cost of a police officer is in excess of $250,000 a year once benefits and pensions are added in.
    And everyone ends up paying the tariff on this excessive speed through the jump in insurance rates due to the inevitable accidents resulting from speeding.

  8. Matthew, not sure why we have to offer drivers anything. But if safer communities isn’t a good enough offer then what would be? Speed limits are being lowered in cities all over the world as more and more municipal governments realize that cities need to be made more pedestrian and bike friendly. When roads took over and forced pedestrians to the bottom of the heap was anything offered to them in exchange?

  9. I live on Booth, between Gladstone and the 417 and have been in constant contact with Councillor Holmes Office, our Community Police Officer and Ottawa Traffic on this issue. Speeding has always been a problem here, but due to the Bronson construction detour, it is out of control. Now, some efforts have been made, 2 new 40km signs and 2 new Children at Play signs where added before the speed board. Clearly these signs did not work! The speed board data clearly shows a problem. Now take away the visibility of the board, its questionable placement right in front of a signalled intersection and school, and I am sure the “average speed” (ridiculous) would be significantly higher. I was told another speed board would be placed heading south, right in front of the lights at Raymond, I presume, but still have not seen it. Between 6 am and 8 am when the floodgates open to Booth at Albert, is when traffic is speeding the most, as people rush to work. I clearly pointed this out several times to everyone mentioned above, yet I see they did not record the speeds at this time???
    It is not only the excessive speeding that is a problem. There are clear “No Trucks” signs all along Booth, yet all day and night tractor trailers, buses and other large trucks (non construction related) speed, rattle and clang up and down this rough section of the street. A change in the street design would make it impossible for large vehicles to use it. Add more bulbouts, narrow the street. Better yet, add a bike lane. Of course I have been told that nothing can or will be done till after Bronson is complete and then a full traffic study can be done, so in 2 years? Why not stratigically set up traffic cones along detour until construction is complete? This will help slow traffic and prevent large trucks and buses from being able to access Booth. Just a thought! Any other ideas I can forward?

    1. Sure, there are things you can do. One is … move. I used to live on Booth, and lead the battle to get it removed from the truck route designation back in the early 80’s. We succeeded, against the wishes of Councillor Hasenack at the time. But it quickly became apparent that winning one battle wasn’t the same as winning the war, so when the opportunity came up I moved off the street. Otherwise it would have become a lifetime quest.

      Signs, of course, don’t do much. They are merely a prelude to enforcement. Enforcement of the current speed limits and truck restrictions should be the first step. Getting the speed boards back, with accurate hourly data, and professional analysis, would really help. You can’t fix what we haven’t measured.

  10. What’s interesting is that they are using average speeds to consider traffic safety. However, when they look at road capacity, they consider only the high-volume peak periods of the days. Even worse, when you get the transportation people in the room, then start talking about designing roads in case of traffic accidents (in other words, they want more capacity in case a traffic accident happens from time to time and slows traffic down). Hilarious.

    Also, on the photo radar (speed cameras), the only reason the City is not using them is that the provincial government refuses to allow cities to choose whether or not to use them. It’s ridiculous, but I have a whole whack of letters to and from the Ontario MTO full of circular arguments and nonesense. They suggested using speed bumps to solve the problem; however, the City’s response is that they don’t like speed bumps…. does anyone else feel like we are sometimes treated like we have below average intelligence by our City’s transportation elites? Le sigh…

    Marc Aubin,
    Lowertown Community Association

  11. Nice work on this blog entry. I agree fully with your premise: traffic calming through street design is the solution, not simply lowering the limit. But I do agree that low limits are good in residential areas. Ottawa needs to do a lot more sensible traffic calming.

    wrt a few of the comments above…

    I would think the speed boards read the speed some distance in advance of them. I’m not sure how far, but it is probably significant enough that drivers probably have only just seen the board and factors like slowing for the intersection shouldn’t really be an issue here (though they should be slowing for a school zone!)… however, they will slow for the board, so it really depends where the measurement occurs…

    The other thing is where the average is approximately the posted limit (42 in each case), the 85th percentile is 50 in each case (these are very consistant in the data you present). My understanding is that limits are generally set recognizing that instrumental uncertainty (of the gun and of the car’s speedometer – even tire wear affects this) affects enforcement, so typically there is a cushion of eg 10km/h – so if the 85th percentile is at 50 in a 40 zone, it’s probably reasonable (and above that is easy to ticket). If you want it lower, lower the limit further.

    Wrt stop signs… stop signs are a lousy means to calm traffic. I live on a much more residential street than Booth, with 6 stop signs in 6 blocks between 2 larger roads. I bet if you put a speed board up on our street you’d get a similar distribution to Booth but without the most excessive outliers (eg the 99). Cars nowadays easily can (and do) reach 70km/h in 1 block between stop signs – and stop signs encourage this behaviour. Stop signs only reduce the speed near the sign. Much better is to modulate the width of the road, or the height of the road using well understood engineering principles… and all of this is much better for cyclists (and the environment – all the stop/starts of cars) than stop signs (I say this as a cycling enthusiast, with children who also bike). Stop signs are to control flow through intersections, not to calm traffic.

    I’m a big fan of low speed limits with greater enforcement for residential streets + higher speed limits with relaxed enforcement on freeways. At the moment, I think things are largely done backwards…

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